Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997, with a promise from Beijing to preserve the city’s autonomy and freedoms under the “one country, two systems” model. The Chinese regime also promised universal suffrage in electing the city’s leader; today, candidates for chief executive are vetted by Beijing, and voted on by an electoral committee made up of mostly pro-Beijing elites.
In 2003, on the anniversary of the handover, a crowd of 500,000 people protested against Beijing’s attempts to insert an “anti-subversion” clause into Hong Kong’s basic law, or constitution, which many Hongkongers believed would lead to suppression of civil freedoms.
Since then, a march is held every year to call for democracy and universal suffrage.
Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), an umbrella body of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy groups, is the organizer of this year’s July 1 march, as it has been for most of the July 1 marches.
The group said this year’s march would call for the withdrawal of a controversial extradition proposal that has already drawn millions to the streets in previous protests.
The bill, first proposed in February, would allow any country, including mainland China, to seek extradition of suspects. Many Hongkongers are worried that if the bill were to pass, Beijing could potentially pressure the city government to hand over citizens of any nationality to face trial in the Chinese regime’s courts under trumped-up charges. They also perceive the measure as further evidence of Beijing eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy since 1997.
After widespread opposition, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced June 15 that the bill would be indefinitely suspended, but Hongkongers have said that’s not enough.
“Carrie Lam has not responded to our five demands and so she has not been able to quell people’s anger [against the bill] … I believe many people will turn out for the July 1 march,” Jimmy Sham, CHRF’s convener, said at a press conference on June 29.
July 1 March
According to CHRF’s Facebook page, the demands include the complete withdrawal of the bill; Lam’s resignation; an independent investigation into police use of force to disperse protesters on June 12; the government to retract its previous characterization of protests as “riots”; and for protesters who were arrested not to be prosecuted.
Protesters clashed with police on June 12, after some protesters tried to break a police line outside the legislature, where lawmakers were set to debate the bill. Local police used pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bags in an attempt to remove protestors from the streets. Over 80 civilians were injured. Human rights group Amnesty International, which has analyzed footage from the scene, concluded that the use of force was “unlawful” and “unnecessary.”
The gathering time for the July 1 march is 2:30 p.m. local time at Victoria Park, the starting point. The scheduled route will run through Causeway Bay before reaching Admiralty, where the Hong Kong government’s offices are located.
Bonnie Leung, CHRF’s vice convener, also said at the press conference that pressure against the Hong Kong government to scrap the bill has been building inside Hong Kong and internationally. In recent weeks, government officials from around the world have voiced their concerns about the measure.
Leung urged march attendees to enter Victoria Park away from the park’s football field. According to local media RTHK, a pro-Beijing group, Hong Kong Celebrations Association, plans to hold a simultaneous ceremony there to commemorate the handover.
“We have confidence that our protesters are very peaceful. And they have shown to the world that they are very peaceful. If there’s any trigger of conflicts, that would not be on our side,” Leung said.
Hong Kong Police
Hong Kong police did little to ease the tensions at a June 29 press conference, while explaining police arrangements for the march.
When a BBC reporter asked if police would bring in “extra resources from outside, maybe mainland [China] or other areas,” San Tze-kin, deputy district commander of Hong Kong’s Central District, said, “It is a good idea,” according to Hong Kong media HK01, though San clarified that police hadn’t made any such arrangements.
The Chinese regime has a military presence in the city: there are about 6,000 Chinese soldiers stationed at the People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison, located in Central.
Veteran Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong, in an interview with the Hong Kong bureau of The Epoch Times, said he’s deeply worried by San’s comment.
Ching said that indicates the possibility that Chinese military could be deployed to disperse crowds, in the event of clashes with police.
If Hong Kong government were to deploy Chinese military on July 1, Ching said it would be “the end for both Hong Kong and the ‘one country, two systems.’”